The context: Located on the Pacific Rim, the Graduate Theological Union has a large contingent of international students from Asia, many Asian Americans serving or intending to serve congregations of Asian heritage, and seminary students of all backgrounds preparing to serve ethnically diverse churches. Although many of my students are East Asians and Asian Americans raised in families that are culturally Confucian, East Asian Christians and younger generations lack knowledge of the Confucian traditions that undergird family values and attitudes. In addition, Confucian heritage has had different impacts among the wide variety of East Asian cultures represented in the classroom, and there are also non-Asian students in the class with no cultural background in Confucianism.
The pedagogical purpose: The course provides students with an understanding of how Confucian heritage continues to influence Christians of East Asian heritage, and how to use that influence to enrich contextualized Christian practice. Students analyze Confucian-Christian encounters and conversations, and do not simply study Confucianism with a Christian lens.
Description of the strategy: One way of addressing all of the above challenges was multifaith/multicultural group collaborations in engaging and presenting primary writers. This was not only a practical decision, but a principled pedagogical strategy. In Confucian academies, students would deeply engage primary writings in conversation with one another and with their teachers.
After several weeks of engagement with classical Confucian texts and writings, I divided the class into three mixed small groups and had them discuss and present material on Confucian thinkers. Each group had specific texts and issues, and were given class time to engage the text and plan their presentation. In this way, we were able to cover more of the material. Each group then presented a different example of scholars engaging Christianity and Confucianism, articulating the approach and evaluating its effectiveness.
Why it is effective: The diversity of the groups (age, culture, academic program, religious affiliation) opened up conversations on a number of levels. The relationships among students within groups was itself part of the learning experience, since both cultural/learning styles and relationships to Confucianism varied considerably. They did not hesitate to address the challenging issues raised by authors and by their own experiences, and the entire class benefited. Removing myself from fine control of all of the presentations led to a rich and engaging learning experience for the students.